Doing a boot-to-skin transition in less than 10 seconds is possible with enough practice with the right gear. Think of 20 seconds as a maximum.
Speed will come naturally as you become more efficient, while rushing in practice will just make you sloppy. The first few hundred reps may take minutes each time, but with enough practice, a fast time will become casual.
Speed doesn't come from doing everything faster, but in not doing things that don't matter. It comes from removing waste, not adding panic.
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How to do the boot-to-skin transition in 10 seconds
The following method is one of many. Different body mechanics and levels of flexibility may require some adjustments. Practice it a lot, and then make it your own.
1. As you approach the transition zone, put both poles in your right hand.
Because ski hooks are located on the right-hand side of packs, putting your poles down with your right hand will set you up better for the following steps. (This may be the opposite if you usually put them down with your left.)
Be ready to act as soon as you enter the transition zone. Do not wait until you enter the transition zone to get organized.
The more you can do before you enter the transition zone, the less you'll have to do while you're there, and the faster the transition will be. To make that happen, get your hands where they need to be as you approach your transition spot.
2. Move to the front-most open area within the transition zone.
Transition zones can be busy. Get as close to the exit of the transition as possible. Do not be Canadian about this and worry about offending someone. (It's a race, not a campfire sing-along.)
Being near the front of the transition zone reduces the chance of any interference when you're ready to leave. And it makes it less likely that your poles will get kicked by an incoming racer as they pass by.
3. Reach for the ski hook with your left hand.
The tip of the ski hook will be pointing to your left-hand side. Because of that, it's easier to pop the hook with your left hand than it is with your right.
Also, because the ski holster is on the left-hand side of most packs, you can grab your skis with your left hand and remove them in one motion.
4. Pop the hook, grab your skis, and "unroll" your left arm.
With the ski hook popped, let your left arm "unroll" in front of you. It'll feel awkward for your wrist at first. The end position is the same one you started in when you holstered your skis. Your palm will be up and your thumb will be pointing outward.
5. Unholster the skis with your right hand.
As your skis come around your body, grab them at the waist with your right hand, and pull them out of the holster.
6. As you bend over, put your skis between your legs.
Having your skis between your legs will make it easier to step into your bindings. Put one ski in each hand as you put them on the ground.
7. Put your right hand on your poles as you step into the right-hand ski.
8. Lock the right-hand toe piece as you step into the left.
9. Lock the left-hand toe piece and start skinning.
10. Drink from your bottle.
As you stand, use your right hand to grab your bottle and take a drink.
If the race is long enough that you'll need calories and water, exiting a transition is the time to get some. During the transition, your heart rate and respiration rate will ease. That makes it easier to drink than when you're working hard going uphill or down. Take advantage of it and take a big gulp as you exit the transition.
(If you estimate your race time in the two- to three-hour range, and if you have a strong aerobic base, it probably won't be necessary to eat any solid food. You should be able to get enough calories with your hydration system. However, if your race will be longer, or if you've done too much high intensity, you may need to eat solid food when races get longer than two hours.)
11. Get your poles into position while skiing downhill.
After taking a swig from your bottle, get your hands into your pole straps as you start skinning.
What if the bootpack is followed by a ski section?
Even if there's a ski section immediately after the bootpack—it's common to boot up a gully and ski down the other side—your skins stay on your skis for the bootpack section. Put your skis on as usual.
Keeping your skins on through a bootpack section is a good idea because it makes the skis easier to manage at the next transition when putting them on the ground. With skins on, your skis are less likely to slide away from you and possibly ruin your race if they head downhill without you.
If the bootpack ends with a ski section, put your skis on as if you were going to start skinning and then immediately rip your skins as usual.
Why so much detail for something so short?
Skimo transitions are an essential skill in skimo racing. Done well, the time they take is insignificant when compared to the length of a typical skimo race. Done badly, transitions can add minutes to your race time and force you to finish well behind other racers of similar fitness. That sucks.
But there's good news. Anyone can have fast transitions. All it takes is practice.